A leading neuroscientist at the University of Oxford says in the next 60 years doctors could be treating religious fundamentalism as a curable mental illness.
“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” research scientist Kathleen Taylor told an audience at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday.
“Somebody who has for example become radicalized to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”
When Taylor said “beliefs” she didn’t mean just religious or cult ideology.
“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults,” she said. “I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness.”
Author of “The Brain Supremacy,” Taylor believes, “In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm.”
In the book she cautioned that scientists have “to be careful when it comes to developing technologies which can slip through the skull to directly manipulate the brain.”
“They cannot be morally neutral, these world-shaping tools; when the aspect of the world in question is a human being, morality inevitably rears its hydra heads,” Taylor wrote. “Technologies which profoundly change our relationship with the world around us cannot simply be tools, to be used for good or evil, if they alter our basic perception of what good and evil are.”
In 2006, Taylor wrote a book called “Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control” in which she studies that persuasive tactics of groups like al-Qaeda.